CULTURE AS THE NEW GENOME

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Psychological theories and research often assume that nations are culturally homogeneous and stable. But global demographic, political, and economic changes and massive immigration have sparked new scholarly and policy interest in cultural diversity and change within nations, and this is being used to study psychology, by using some psychological universals. Psychological universals can be defined as those traits, processes, dispositions, or functions that recur across cultures, with at least a subset of each population (e.g., individuals of a specific gender or at a specific developmental stage) exhibiting the trait. Because traits may recur across cultures due to cultural influences alone (via common cultural descent, cultural diffusion, or cultural evolutionary convergence), the strongest test of the universality of a given psychological trait is to search for it across maximally disparate cultures. Our traits, genes and upbringing largely define our personality and psychology. For example, in our home meal times symbolize family time as food is regarded as an important aspect of our culture, and we generally prefer to sit on the floor and eat with folded legs, along with the whole family. But after coming here and eating in mess in the dining table, led me to think of various logics and reasoning, and comparing the environment and culture at home and that in the mess. “Our culture includes our whole system of beliefs, values, attitudes, customs and institutions. It shapes our gender, race and other social relations, and affects the way we perceive ourselves and the world and how we interact with other people and the rest of nature…. it has a central place in the complex notion of sustainability – and whatever form the future takes…” (United Nation of Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, [UNESCO] 2005). Now eating on the dining table, I sometimes feel like, sitting on the floor and eating was backward, and eating on dining table is more sophisticated and luxurious, because of my artificial intelligence which makes me copy and follow the lifestyle here, but I forget that the ancient way of sitting on the floor and eating is scientifically advised as it helps in better digestion. Maybe, it is because of my psychology, that makes me think this way, and probably my old personality is not like before anymore, because the culture here has affected my artificial intelligence, and my mirror-neurons are getting adapted to the culture here.

Personality may be conceptualized as a configuration of cognitions, emotions, and habits activated when situations stimulate their expression. Generally, they determine the individual’s unique adjustment to the world, especially what we learn when we are with our people, of our community, of our culture. By defining culture as core societal values, individualism-collectivism theories trace variation in behavior across cultures explained by core values that exist outside the individual. Thus culture has become a significant new source of evolutionary pressure, which helped select for brains that had even better mirror-neuron systems and the imitative learning associated with them. The result was one of the many self-amplifying snowball effects that culminated in Homo sapiens, the ape that looked into its own mind and saw the whole cosmos reflected inside. The mirror-neuron hypothesis, from the neuroscience point of view, also lends insight into how culture affects our psychology. Mirror neurons are almost certainly involved when an infant first repeats a sound or word that she hears. It may require internal translation: the mapping of sound patterns onto corresponding motor patterns and vice versa. Finally, although the mirror-neuron system evolved initially to create an internal model of other people’s actions and intentions, in humans it may have evolved further—turning inward to represent (or re-represent) one’s own mind to itself. A theory of mind is not only useful for intuiting what is happening in the minds of friends, strangers, and enemies; but in the unique case of Homo sapiens, it may also have dramatically increased the insight we have into our own mind’s’ workings.

Culture, as the new genome in the field of psychology and cognitive science, can be justified in many ways. By defining culture as contexts, ecological system theories hold the potential to address diversity in psychological processes by looking at the interrelationships of individuals and contexts. The theory is applicable to differences in school performance by addressing how children make sense of their environments. By defining culture as caste, cultural-ecological theories move beyond deficit models of cultural differences to explain cultural variations in behavior as a function of psychological processes, particularly perceptions of opportunity and efficacy. By defining culture as capital, structure-agency theories interface the concept of culture as core values with those of context and caste. By defining culture as a set of universally adaptive tools, eco cultural and socio cultural theories posit universal concepts to understand similarities and differences across cultures and variations within cultures as a function of dynamic interactions. By defining culture as intergroup relations, social identity theories see culture in psychological terms and link individual with social-group processes. By defining culture as a dynamic psychological construct, multiple-worlds theories link individuals with contexts and conceptualize people as agentic in negotiating cultural boundaries.

Finally, scholars from different fields are coming together and are moving beyond “giving science away” to understand psychology, artificial intelligence and cognitive science. This has resulted in more integration of scholarly and policy debates on issues of application and ethics, emerging from a coalition of government agencies and professional organizations. The international scholarly community is finding new ways to understand the role of culture in human development without over emphasizing or ignoring either psychological (“micro”) or structural (“macro”) processes. Psychologists are coming together for various interdisciplinary fields to understand cultures as developing systems of individuals, relationships, material and social contexts, and institutions. Whatever the realm, the potential uses of social theory to design intelligent software are numerous and remain largely untapped. For the immediate future, I would argue that artificial intelligence needs social theory as much or more than social theory needs artificial intelligence, and culture can be seen as the new genome.

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10 thoughts on “CULTURE AS THE NEW GENOME

  1. Really interesting. My area in professional life is composition and rhetoric, specifically designing and running a college writing program. Recent research has focused on hidden racism in writing assessment, helping us see how a “deficit model” creeps in even when we think we are guarding against it. This is problematic, for instance, in placement processes that asks students to assess their own abilities. Developing these processes without accounting for the cultural context from which a person comes replicates the racist bias that is found in standardized testing. Thanks for your post.

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